The Back Roads of Puglia – Day 5

A Puglian wedding and a visit to unforgettable Lecce

Gallipoli Another great sleep. Fully refreshed for our last full day. Breakfast on the roof terrace. The fruit salad was especially good. Azure sky, cloudless too. 9.00 am and so hot. Mustn’t forget the sun lotion.

We walked out of the hotel onto a recently laid carpet. Around the hotel entrance, small boxes and ribbons hung. We didn’t need Hercules Poirot to deduce that a wedding was in the air.

Puglian good and beautiful congregated at the entrance to the cathedral. Dresses you would see on an international catwalk. Elegant, chic, expensive. Heels so high that heads were in the clouds. Not all elegant and beautiful though. One lady, mutton dressed as lamb had a face which had had a series of peels and resurfacing work and still looked like a building site.

Men ultratanned, stood in deep conversation. Shoes 3 sizes too big, sock less and wearing suits 2 sizes too small. Sleeves that finish three inches above the wrist. And this is fashionable? Questionable that’s for sure. One reason not to stay in the EU.

A page boy aged three dressed in a crisp green suit and sporting a mullet not seen since Lamahl from Kajagoogoo. As the bride appeared, all the shop keepers came out and applauded and soon everyone else did so too. Wonderful.

An Italian wedding As she entered with her father a choir of angels filled the air. Music so beautiful and so emotional that I felt a couple of tears running down my face. It brought back memories of our wedding and 35 happy years together. Granted the setting in Doncaster wasn’t as grand as this but as my granddad Joe used to say “It’s not where you do it, it’s who you do it with that counts”. I am so lucky to have Babs in my life … Io ti amo.

Truly wonderful to see and so pleased to have had a small part in this Italian drama. We spent the morning at leisure in Gallipoli. Sun-kissed cobbles. Dogs lay comatose soaking up the sun. 34C. We strolled taking in the sights and smells of this great town. Drinking coffee and languishing under an umbrella people watching. Isn’t that what holidays are all about?

LECCE was our final port of call today. And what an end to our tour – well almost. It does seem to have a dilemma about what to be known as. Pearl of the South, Florence of the South, Rome of the South, Jewel of the South.

Well it is the Salentine Capital. It’s in the South of Puglia. It’s cultural and utterly gorgeous – a place everyone should see before they meet their maker.

Lecce Built from locally sourced honey coloured, buttery coloured, pale yellow limestone known here as pietra leccese. Soft and malleable and fabulous to carve with. And what a town of eccentric carvings it is. Over time the stone hardens and takes on a pinkish hue. With the Sun so fierce today it was bouncing off the buildings making sunglasses essential.

SANTA CROCE basilica is hard to describe. You must go and see it. Baroque style. A huge rose window is surrounded by grotesque animals and visions from Heaven and Hell.

PIAZZA DEL DUOMO is impressive and large. A bit of a religious mecca for those who believe. A cathedral, a seminary , a palace for the bishop all look inwards into the square. Alongside is a tiered campanile.

The town is full of Baroque and Renaissance style churches. Around every corner is another photo opportunity. All the streets are elegant and wide – even the narrow alleys! The old centre is charming, which contrasts to the outside of town which is typically drab – as are all towns.

Lecce We strolled and followed our great guide who spoke exquisite English. The tour was a Slow Food journey, and today it was Slow Travel – taking time to appreciate and understand the town, getting under the skin of this magical place.

The streets were not congested and it was easy to get around. This town is papier mache heaven, the ancient art is alive and well here, in small studios which encroach onto the streets. The ice cold coffee and small Lecce cake (the size of a small pie and full of warm custard) were readily devoured.

The Roman amphitheatre was impressive. Originally seating 15,000 plus. Horse shoe shaped and tiered so everyone could have a good view of the gory goings on in the arena. Only half is on show. The other half of the ruins are under modern day Lecce. Will they ever be excavated? Who knows? But they should.

Also in PIAZZA SANT’ORONZO is a bishop on a stick? Look upwards and you will see a bishop perched high up on a column. This marks the end (or is it the start?) of the Roman Appian Way. There is a similar column at the start or the end in Brindisi.

Lecce This Piazza is the social heart of the town. At the bewitching hour Lecce comes alive – happy hour or passeggiate. All generations from all families appear, strutting their stuff, dressed to the nines, dressed to kill – as only Italians seem to be able to do WITH STYLE!

It’s a wonderful social event. Plastic chairs, carried underarm, unfold and circles are formed around the square. Groups are engrossed in Italian chit chat  playing cards and other games, laughing with not a care in the world. 

After saying good bye to our guide and sampling Pucce Leccesi – a traditional bread with olive and tomatoes – it was time for our Farewell meal (again included in our tour price).

Dinner at Osteria degli Spiriti in Lecce. Our last meal together. Sad but a grand affair all the same. Superb food and superb company. Pasta again and then a great grilled fish course  with plenty of wine and water  as usual. Thanks guys, you have all been wonderful travelling companions. And thanks to Suzannah and Guiseppe for another brilliant day. We are really going to miss you all. I wonder what tomorrow, our last day together, will bring. Can’t wait.

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Dave Harcombe

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